The Bleak Lands
(You can also read this race from Kay's point of view)
It was the last race of the season and there were so many loose ends.
One of these was Ayre Rowan, our team rookie. She had been doing wonderfully during the season and this was her last shot, ever, to capture the rookie title. You can't be a rookie forever.
Then we had Demon Flir. He had been frigates champion once... and again, and this season he had again collected enough score to go home and have the cup shipped to him afterwards. But nooo, this time he did not want to just win: he wanted to bowl perfect.
Then there was me. The AF class had suddenly heated up, with Venture Racing Team planning to make a last push for the team AF title. And I was the designated AF driver for Scuderia Dragonstar.
Bad things happen on the last race.
Especially when there are loose ends...
Pre-race was livelier than usual. There had been this huge preparation and discussion, about where the track would go from the Bleaks. Would there be pirates? Would there be shooting among racers?
The plan involved lots of ammo, lots of drones. And lots of clones.
Ayre was uneasy. "Does this mean I can race safe? As long as I don't shoot anyone?"
Maybe it was all that talk about clones. We were all a little bit uneasy though, not about losing ships, but about losing time.
"Ayre you should run like the wind..."
So we had placed our team racers, four of them, at the starting line at Netsalakka. And then some seven spare ships across three or four regions.
I would start in a Jaguar.
It would be fun.
ISRC gave the starting signal and everyone but me undocked. As the slowest in my team, I held back and called gate - "First gate, Iesa, Iesa!" then dived the Feline Fatale into the undock blackout.
If you ever see space and you do not know where to warp, then you are falling behind. It was my job to set the course and make sure they knew. I slipped out just in time to see Takashi's Malediction warping away, chased by Demon, Kay and Ayre.
Have I mentioned we have such a kickass frigates team? They all fly like interceptors.
And now we knew who was racing. VRT had Tak in his Malediction and Koronakesh in a Retribution; this meant that Tak would fly slow to anchor Koro at the waypoints. And he could afford it, he was definitely getting his own interceptors cup shipped home regardless of what happened on this race.
There were also three independent racers, an Executioner and a couple of Rifters.
Waypoint one, Uusanen. Warp in, approach, wait, get the waypoint, warp out. Same old, same old.
Waypoint two, Kamela. "Holy crap," came Demon's voice through vent.
He was point. Just in case you are wondering, no, a racing team point does not point people. It is the racer in front, pointing stuff out for the rest of the team coming behind.
"Four cans... four cans, five cans. Pedaling towards waypoint two."
"Kay going to two."
This place had containers marked as waypoints two, three and up to seven! Everyone dreads this in a race, a waypoint so confusing that no amount of experience or fitting will beat blind luck. If you make the right guesses, about which cans to open and which ones to ignore, you can make a podium finish. Go ahead, you have a full split-second to decide.
My second favourite behind blind luck is team tactics.
"Two is open, points to three in Lamaa, so the three here is fake. Pedaling waypoint four now."
"Kay going on to waypoint three."
"Quin approaching five."
Demon swiftly took the role unto himself to stay behind in Kamela, accessing every one of the five, while Kay sped ahead to Lamaa and other places; we would still figure the track out faster this way. Ayre had somehow dropped from vent but was still racing, and I was doing everything at AF speed.
Kamela, Lamaa, Kamela, Kourmonen, Kamela, Tannakan. We were racing in circles.
I reached waypoint five in Kourmonen. "Tak is here." He should not have been.
"Yeah, he is behind me," replied Demon "I'm still not sure what he is doing - is he waiting?"
"And he is gone. And Koronakesh is just warping in, he's just overtaken me!"
Crap. It did not matter how fast or how far ahead our frigates and interceptors were. If Tak could pull his AF team mate faster than I could go, they would win.
By waypoint nine, Kurniainen, Tak and Koro were slowly but surely overtaking our entire team when Demon called ten.
"Ten is Oyonata control bunker."
I was a minute behind, still two systems from nine and jumping into... Oyonata! I smiled, I would collect ten, then nine and -with any luck- I would be closer to eleven.
Now I was calling for the team: "Eleven is Gratesier, ha!"
See, that's why I love blind luck, that move put me a minute ahead of Demon.
"Anyone has eyes on Takashi?"
Kay was wondering where VRT was. The last we knew of them was Tak leaving everyone in the dust at nine, not to be seen again, with Koro in tow and thumbing his nose at our best. With any more luck -please?- Koro would slip and I would catch up.
Four jumps to Gratesier, then five to Archee. Somewhere in between I noticed this blue blip in my overview, so brief I could not see who he was. I jumped and, as I warped away, the blip reappeared on this side of the gate.
Takashi was gaining on me.
Excuse me? That does not really happen in real life? I was actually racing my AF ahead of the entire pack. I was in the lead!
Three to go and I could see reality catching up anyway. There was no way to keep that up. Tak, my team, the pack and Koro would all fly by me. I asked my team about Koro's position on the track again and again, while I tried to figure out how to keep him behind. Three to go, only three shots for Tak's flying to help; on the fourth one he would be docked.
In the meantime, Ayre had been cut off team vent and only on chat, which made her miss some of the Kamela waypoints. By the time she realised that... it had became such a long way back to the beginning of the track that she almost quit the race. Almost... but she pushed on.
Thirteen was Egghelende. We were so screwed.
Tak overtook me on the way there but at least he would be getting mugged before me. I arrived at Egghelende in third place, there was no one to bother us. Pirates must have been on a break.
The next waypoint was fourteen jumps away, Carrou. Jump, align, warp.
Maybe it was a short break. Kay's voice warned us "Oh, Koronakesh says Egg is being camped by pirates? I did not see anyone..."
Then my in-ship comms went crazy with our navigator suggesting a clone jump. Where to? There was no time. Jump, align, warp.
VRT had an impossible situation now. Tak was already past the Egghelende waypoint and Koro was blocked from it. He could keep staying close to Koro... or drop him to fend off by himself. He had fourteen jumps to make up his mind.
In the meantime I really needed to check, but you can't stop your ship in the middle of a race to check the map. And in space no one can hear you ask for directions. What to do?
Jump, align, warp.
Carrou was now eleven jumps off and geting closer. I had a spare and a jump clone at Jel, the same at Faurent. Jel was close to Carrou, right? Jump, align... dock.
"Oh whatever, I am docking."
A last look at the autopilot saved me from a stupid mistake: Faurent, not Jel, because it was on the way to Carrou. Doh.
The fit crew jumped on my ship as soon as it docked, extracted the pod and prepped me right there. No, I do not know how they do that and I doubt that we have a freaking racing-grade jump clone flash-freezer.
"Goodmorning everyone," I awoke to a bunch of unfamiliar crew in green jumpsuits.
I must have been racing.
They wasted no time briefing me on what was going on, what I had to do next and sending me on my way. There was no time for coffee or croissants, damit, and I would have to finish waking up on my way to -where had they said I had to go?- Carrou. They set me in a Ishkur and I undocked.
Kay updated me "I am now seven to destination, Takashi is... about to overtake me, it will take like, one jump maybe two for him to overtake me. I am lagged now, loading systems. Nice, Quin!"
I was one jump off the next waypoint and in the lead again!
"It's Crielere, right next door to Rancer," I said, calling waypoint.
"You did not post the next waypoint on chat, you know that?" complained Demon.
I warped out and then posted the full navi info. "Warp now, questions later," I would not let the lead slip away this close to finishing.
As I arrived in Crielere, Demon was being overtaken back in Carrou.
"Tak left, just as I was warping out. Slightly ahead of me now."
Apparently Takashi had made up his mind that there was no helping Koro. No matter how long he waited at Carrou, Koro would never catch up on the AF race. There was nothing to prevent Tak from going all-out.
I warped out as soon as my systems had locked onto the next waypoint, the finish line.
"Warping out. Ooooh, bad, bad, bad," I looked at my navi info "seven jumps to finish, I do not know if I can beat him."
Finish line at Stetille. The last seven jumps of the race, the last of the season. Last of my career.
Takashi is very good at long jump sequences. For all we know, he can gain five seconds on you on each system, and that is if you are racing the same ship. But his Interceptor vs. my Assault Frigate? Eeek. I only had a lead of four systems on him.
I docked at Stetille with a not-so-comfortable lead of 48 seconds.
Yup, I think I may have seen a blue blip in my overview.
After-race was livelier than ever.
We were all still feeling the adrenaline rush; everyone in the team had something to celebrate.
Ayre had survived the comms loss and finished the race to become the Rookie Frigates Champion, keeping in the finest Scuderia racing tradition. Demon had won frigates and scored a perfect season for the first time in history: every single race a win! Kay had risen from 3rd to 2nd place interceptors ranking thanks to this race and, although she had not won any championship for herself, she had led the team to our best season ever.
No one had been shot. We had used only one clone, mine.
And I? I had finished the race in first place and beaten the legendary Takashi Kurosawa, in an Assault Frigate! I had won the AF Team Cup for SDS, and the AF Pro Cup for myself.
And all those loose ends? Tied now, in a nice bow knot.